Sunday, June 17, 2012

Tea Staining Tutorial # 2307 (and counting)

I make no apologies here.
I know there's a lot of tea staining tutorials out there.
Where would Prim and Shabby Chic be without tea staining?
Ralph Lauren even brought out a tea staining wallpaper glaze.
Hitting the tea is nothing new.

I use tea staining to make fabric 
the right colour for cloth doll bodies
It has its limitations.
I can't get a really dark colour,
which is very limiting,
and I have no control over the end result,
which is very liberating.
On some fabrics (mainly John Lewis curtain lining,
for which I can't find any substitute here in the US)
the tea has a softening effect, 
making the fabric pleasant to handle 
and closer to warm human skin.
This is important to me because I like my dolls to be handled
otherwise they're not dolls;
they're just rather naff dressed figurines.

Sookie. Likes to be handled. Can I say that on a family friendly blog?


Choosing and using your tea.

So, if you're British, or Ozzie or a Kiwi or Irish,
just drink tea as normal
and throw the used tea bags into a plastic tub.

If you're Southern, make iced tea as normal
and throw the used family sized tea bags
 into a plastic tub.

If you pretend to occasionally sip at tea, 
and think a tea party sounds lovely, 
but you don't actually drink the stuff on a regular basis,
just buy a dollar box of tea bags at your local store.

The cheaper the tea, the paler (and more pink) the outcome.
Good strong tea, like PG Tips, gives a lovely, dark
golden colour on the right fabric.

Now you have the tea bags, and the tea bags are your dye.
You don't need a mordant.
My chemistry is a little vague here,
but I'm assuming that the tannin acts as a mordant.

Choosing and using your fabric.

I only dye pure cotton this way.
Anything polyester would give odd results 
because of polyester's reluctance to take up dye, 
and because I prefer the feel of pure cotton.


Wash and rinse your cotton.
(You probably have a big machine that does just that, right?)


 Fill a big stock pot/pasta pan with
water and the tea bags, 
lots and lots of tea bags,
(at least 10 and up to 50)
and bring to the boil.
Keep boiling for ten minutes.

Scoop out the tea bags 
or you will get tiny flakes of tea in your fabric
 and they won't come out.
If you have any burst tea bags, 
you will have to pour the dye through a coffee filter.


Turn the pot down to simmer and add the fabric.
(dry or wet, up to you).

the pan must be big enough and full enough
for the fabric to move freely, 
or the dye will be uneven.
Don't dye a huge piece.
I usually dye a quarter yard; 
half a yard is the biggest I can put
in my stock pot.


Let the fabric simmer on a very low heat
for half an hour.
Give it a stir occasionally 
and make sure the fabric is below the surface.

Take it out and check the colour. If it's dark enough
(remember, it will lighten as it is rinsed and dried)
you're done.

If the fabric doesn't seem to be getting any darker,
you're done.

Two different colours, same technique.
Either, let the fabric cool in the pot, 
if you're aiming for as deep a colour as possible.
or take it out while hot if it's the colour you want.
 Rinse until water runs clear.
After rinsing,
I usually put mine in the tumble dryer on hot
just to set the dye.
All this boiling and tumbling is another reason 
why I like to use cotton.

 Iron and then admire your dyed fabric.

The finish isn't just for skin colour. 
It can be used to age patterned fabric for a vintage look, 
or to shift the white background to a creamier colour.
But you already knew that, right?


  1. Fantastic post! I love to tea dye and have learn so much on why mine does not always turn out the way it should. I have been guilty of adding coffee to the mix just to darken it. :)

    Sookie is adorable and her coloring is beautiful!


    1. The surprising outcome of tea dying is part of the reason I enjoy it so.There's so many variables and even using the same kind of tea on the same kind of fabric will produce different colours. If I was after a specific effect, it would drive me nuts. I'll have to try coffee, and the onion skins suggested below, for more shades.

  2. if you're going for a darker color, you might try using onion skins.

    1. I might try that. I'm used to using onion skins to dye eggs because of the lovely golden colour. I'll have to try it on cloth.

  3. Wonderful Post Rhissanna and Sookie is just adorable! Beautiful workmanship.

    1. Thank you so much! I'm hoping to get Sookie finished this week. And some more cloth dyed. It's doll making season, folks!

  4. I feel the same way about dolls being handled. I think one of the saddest things I see in auctions is NRFB. They never got the chance to really enjoy their doll. I take my dolls out of their boxes right away!

    1. I understand that completely. If it's a doll in a box, it's not really a doll because it's never been played with. I don't think those people are doll lovers. I think they are box collectors!

  5. I used some herbal tea bags once because I didn't like them. They had too much rose hip in them for my taste. Too tart. Anyway the fabric came out pink...a very pretty shade of pink:)

    1. Ohh! I'll have to have a dig amongst my abandoned tea bags at the back of the larder. Rosehip, eh? I'm sure I had one somewhere.... Thank you for the tip!

  6. i like to use tea..or coffee...with pure vanilla extract added!
    i like to make very prim i rub with cinnamon and bake in a very low oven to dry!

    1. Wow, Ann, they must smell wonderful! I've just started my own batch of vanilla extract toda., Dolls that smell of vanilla -there's a thought!


Thank you all for the wonderful and supportive things you say! I'm thrilled to read them and I reply to each one.